We asked Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner, who was in charge of the section on Islam for several years at the newspaper La Croix, to reflect on her experience. Knowing practically nothing about Islam when she accepted that position, she embarked on the adventure to cover both the Islamic-Christian dialogue and Islam in France. Through meetings and many field visits, she built for herself a comprehensive address book (the large Islamic associations, mosques and cultural centers, Muslims or non-Muslim thinkers and Islamic Scholars, believers and sceptics) and she developed for herself a course of action: to deal separately with Islam and Islamic-Christian dialogue, to take seriously the religious motivations behind the violence sometimes committed in the name of Islam, to talk about the Eastern Christians of the East without pinning what they experiment in the East on the situation in France, not to give a voice to those who use verbal abuse on social networks.
The constructive and nonviolent management of religious pluralism is certainly an issue as important as the global warming today. Catholics have a role to play in this field because they know what it means to believe and they can understand what is a faithful rationality confronted to the questions posed by the contemporary world.
PhD candidate at Sorbonne Université, IDEO/IFAO Fellow
icon-calendar Tuesday February 11ᵗʰ, 2020
While the classical Muslim exegetical tradition considers the Qurʾān as a starting point, and focuses on clarifying its obscure points by referring to the life of the Prophet and His sayings, the contemporary tendency of many researchers in the West is to consider it as a point of arrival. In other words the Qurʾān is the product of Late Antiquity, which collects previous religious, philosophical and cultural traditions. A third tendency is to study the Qurʾān alone, outside of its Late Antique context and outside of the Islamic tradition.
This Coran des historiens chooses the second approach, that of the context of Late Antiquity, excluding the studies of researchers such as Jacqueline Chabbi or Michel Cuypers who study the Qurʾān for its own sake, or the school of Angelika Neuwirth who does not reject the Islamic tradition as a source of interpretation of the text.
The point of view of Guillaume Dye, one of the two editors of the book, is that the Qurʾān is a complicated, composite text, neither the work of a single man, nor a closed book, but an open collection that builds up gradually in discussion with this Late Antiquity context. Contrary to the Islamic hagiography which gives the Caliph ʿUṯmān (d. 35/656) the role of editor of the text in its final consonantical version, Guillaume Dye identifies the reign of the Umayyad Caliph ʿAbd al-Mālik (d. 86/705) as the political and cultural context that most influenced the text.
The Coran des historiens consists of one volume of twenty historical studies and two volumes of a systematic analysis of the entire Qurʾānic text. It is an essential tool for researchers and readers of the Qurʾān, regardless of their approaches and beliefs.
French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo
icon-calendar Wednesday January 22ⁿᵈ, 2020
Historically, the kingdom of Takrūr is one of the first regions in West Africa have adopted Islam, in the middle of the 5ᵗʰ/11ᵗʰ century. This kingdom is not unknown to Arab authors: al-Masʿūdī (d. 345/956) mentions it in a book attributed to him, Aḫbār al-zamān. After the fall of Baghdad in 656/1258, Cairo became the new center of the Islamic civilization and the presence of Takārīr (sg. Takrūrī) began to be documented there for the first time, in the broad meaning of “Muslims of West Africa”. They were either passing through Cairo on their way to Mecca, or coming to study with a teacher, or settling down.
The first documented pilgrimage of a king of Takrūr to Mecca is that of mansā Mūsā in 724/1324. The arrival in Cairo of his caravan of 15,000 men, reported by al-Maqrīzī (d. 845/1442) in his book Sulūk li-maʿrifat duwal al-mulūk, made a strong impression on the local population. He brought with him twelve tons of gold, which drove down the market price for many years.
Finally, between the 13ᵗʰ and the 15ᵗʰ centuries, sources mention about twenty Sufi Saints from Takrūr, buried and venerated in the Qarāfa cemetery in Cairo.
Professor of Islamic Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville
icon-calendar Tuesday November 26ᵗʰ, 2019
Thanks to the precise study of the path and destiny of certain relics (the heads of al-Ḥusayn, Muḥammad b. Ibn Abī Bakr or Alī Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, prayer mats, footprints, turbans…), it is possible to write a history of Muslim piety and political power games. The Sufis traditionally link the cult of the relics to the following Qurʾānic verse: “And their Prophet said to them, ‘Surely the sign of his kingship is that the coffer will come up to you; in it (are) a Serenity from your Lord, and a remnant of what the house of Mûsâ and the house Hârûn left (behind), the Angels carrying it. Surely in that is indeed a sign for you, in case you are believers’”(Q. 2 (al-Baqara), 248). Among the sultans who have most encouraged the veneration of relics, the case of al-Ḥākim bi-amr Allāh (d. 411/1021) is significant. He built mosques in Cairo to house relics of the Prophet that he had stolen from Madinah and organized prayers for the flooding of the Nile. In the following centuries, these relics were moved to other places: Ribāṭ al-Āṯār, the mausoleum of al-Ġūrī, the mosque of al-Sayyida Zaynab, the ministry of Awqāf at the Citadel, the palace of ʿAbdīn and the mosque of al-Ḥusayn, where they are today. It is striking to note that despite their popular and political importance, it is not easy to follow the relics in textual sources, where they constantly appear and disappear.
N. A. Mansour, whose PhD dissertation deals with the transition from manuscripts to printed books, focused during this seminar on what is probably the most popular book in the Islamic tradition: Dalāʾil al-ḫayrāt wa-šawāriq al-anwār fī ḏikr al-ṣalāt ʿalā al-nabī al-muḫtār, a collection of prayers for the Prophet, compiled by a Moroccan Sufi and faqīh, Muḥammad b. Sulayman al-Ǧazūlī (d. 870/1465). The many manuscripts of this piety book, scholars say, would represent about 30% of all the Arabic manuscripts. It is still very popular, even if the development of Salafism was an obstacle to its diffusion. These manuscripts are often of great interest to the researcher, when they contain prayers copied at the end of the text, marginal comments (usually grammatical) or prescriptive advice on how to use this or that prayer. The success of the book makes it an important witness to the themes disseminated in popular piety: not only the place of the figure of the Prophet, but also the glorification of God through his attributes or the place of the believer in cosmology or salvation history.
While the internal situation of the Muslim world was favorable in the early 1970s (regained independence from the colonizers, training of religious elites in the West, unity of opinions on a draft of a constitution for an Islamic state…), it was the internal divisions that dominated from the late 1970s and early 1980s (Iranian revolution, Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, capture of the Great Mosque of Mecca, assassination of Sadat…).
While it is clear that external factors partly explain the crisis in the Muslim world (Israeli occupation, successive Gulf wars…), it is also necessary to take into consideration the depth of internal divisions in the Muslim world. Three questions can illustrate these divisions: 1) the question of morals —should all Islamic laws be preserved, and if so, should they really be applied, or should we ignore preserving these laws and officially abandoning certain parts of them?; 2) the question of the ideal Islamic political regime (caliphate, royalty, republic?), and 3) the question of the relationship to the past (return to an ideal past, selection and reinterpretation?)
PhD candidate at Sorbonne Université, IDEO/IFAO Fellow 2019‒2020
icon-calendar Wednesday October 30ᵗʰ, 2019
Using a quantitative method, which includes traditions related to the Prophet and the Companions, and measures their distribution in ancient works of the Muslim tradition, Adrien de Jarmy tries to identify the political-religious thresholds and dynamics that mark the evolution of the representations of the Prophet. Moreover, in the Kitāb al-maġāzī, in the Muṣannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 211/826) which includes 96% of the stories transmitted by Maʿmar b. Rāšid (m. 153/770), the Prophet is depicted above all as a warrior and does not occupy such a central place as he does in the Sīra of Ibn Hišām (m. 213/828), where he is omnipresent both as legislator and as a miracle worker. It would seem that after the ʿAbbāsid revolution in 132/750, political power needed to justify its link to the Prophet to both legitimize its ability to govern and to convince Jewish and Christians to convert to Islam by encouraging the emergence of an imperial historiography, which was not the priority of the Umayyads. It may also be that the Muṣannaf of ʿAbd al-Razzāq, written in Yemen, reflects peripheral concerns different from those prevailing in Baghdad, while at the same time informing us about the state of historiography at the end of the Umayyad period. Finally, it may be that some of these stories come from oral folk traditions (quṣṣāṣ) that have made their way into the biographical narratives that would eventually become canon.
Dr. Abd al-Hakim Radi, Professor of Arabic Literature, Literary Criticism, and Rhetoric in the Department of Arts at Cairo University and member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo
Jean Druel, O.P., Director of IDEO and scholar in the history of Arabic grammar
icon-calendar Tuesday September 10ᵗʰ, 2019
At a lecture he gave last November, Jean Druel, O.P. outlined a history of the Arabic language in connection with other Semitic languages. He discussed the question of the status of the language of the Qurʾān and its link with the historical phases of Arabic, highlighting some specific features of each phase which now coexist in use.
At this seminar, Dr. Abd al-Hakim Radi wished to respond to Jean Druel’s lecture, focusing in particular on the status of the Qurʾānic language and its specific eloquence, which culminates in the question of the linguistic miracle of the Qurʾān. He also discussed the question of the normative grammar of the Arabic language and its authority to judge the Qurʾānic language. He explained that instances in the Qurʾān that may violate rules of the Arabic language could be authentically justified in the itself, without any contradiction, due to the flexibility of the Arabic language and the diversity of its ancient dialects, which are all authentically Arabic and eloquent. He also explained that Muslim scientists have extensively dealt with these issues in the past.
In the end, the difference between the two researchers is that Jean Druel, O.P. discusses these different states of the Arabic language from the point of view of their historic succession, while Dr. Abd al-Hakim Radi considers this linguistic diversity within a single language without history and without development.
Professor at the Faculty of Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University
icon-calendar Monday June 24ᵗʰ, 2019
In this book, considered as the foundation of the Islamic legal theory, al-Šāfiʿī (d. 204/820) discusses the position of two distinct and opposing groups, the “Iraqis” and the “Hijazis”, on the question of legal arguments: what kind of evidence is lawful, and what strength do each type of argument has in relation to the others? One of the disputed issues is the autonomy of the Sunna in legal argumentation. Unlike later works, the Risāla of al-Šāfiʿī follows an apologetic outline, that is not systematic. In his argumentation, al-Šāfiʿī gives a central place to the Prophet, and therefore to the Sunna and to the ḥadīṯs, in relation to the Qurʾān, and this, since the very first pages of his Risāla. He justifies this by referring to many verses from the Qurʾān, such as this one: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger” (Q. 4 al-Nisāʾ, 136), among other verses.